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Magazines > MultiMedia Schools > October 2003
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Vol. 10 No. 5 — October 2003
The Online Educator
How To Create A Standards-Driven, Technology-Based Collaborative Media Program
by Peggy Milam
Media Specialist, Cobb County (Georgia) School District

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We had just remodeled our dark, cramped, and outdated media center. Workmen had installed new shelving and carpet, an artist had painted a woodsy mural in the story corner, and technicians had networked our new computer workstations when my principal began to complain that students weren't using the media center enough to warrant the big investment. At that time, our media center operated on a fixed schedule. Classes came in every week at their scheduled time, but students rarely came in on a pass.

The Birth of InfoQuest

After repeated meetings during which the principal complained that we needed to increase our patronage, I began to wonder what I could do. I thought, "What if we asked a weekly research question that tied in to the curriculum? What if we made researching fun and exciting? What if we gave little prizes to encourage regular participation?" BINGO! InfoQuest was born. In spite of my principal's protests that my idea would never work, I tried it, and it did work! InfoQuest worked so well, in fact, that it brought in students, teachers, parents, and money.

InfoQuest is a game of challenging library research questions that can be answered using resources from the school library media center. Each week, a different question is posed on the school news broadcast and students have all week to research the answer. Younger students are given much more assistance, but all ages are encouraged to participate. By the end of the school year, students who have been regular participants will have used nearly every type of print or digital resource available and will have developed a range of information-literacy skills.

Why Is Teaching Information-Literacy Skills Important?

The pace of information processing in today's society moves at a speed that is continuously accelerating. Mark Nelson, in his article "We Have the Information You Want, but Getting It Will Cost You" in Crossroads Magazine [1],noted that "our proficiency at generating information has exceeded our abilities to find, review, and understand it." The sheer volume of data available to us today has transcended the abilities of most people to locate the very data they need. In other words, the technology to produce data has surpassed the development of tools with which to disseminate it. Nelson adds, "More new information has been produced in the past 30 years than in the last 5 millennia."

The Information Explosion

Technology has resulted in an astounding increase in the amount of information available and a corresponding deficit in the ability to sort and sift through it to find the exact data needed for a given task. This phenomenon has been called the information explosion ... and it doesn't just affect the baby boomers. Today's students are no less susceptible to this overload of information than are today's workers. They often face similar problems in retrieving data and behave in much the same fashion as today's workers. Lynn Akin queried students about their responses to being overloaded with information. Her report, "Information Overload and Children," published in the School Library Media Quarterly [2], indicated that students reported headaches, tiredness, depression, frustration, even feeling panicked when overloaded. Akin also reported that students were likely to skip over data when too much was uncovered. Akin concluded, "It is important for librarians to become aware of information overload and the ways in which students experience it."

Trends in Student Research

Over the past several years, I have observed some alarming trends in student research. Even the brightest students tend to accept the first information they locate on a topic rather than sorting through all available sources to locate the best. Moreover, teachers in the various schools where I have worked seem to support these "first-results-only" types of searches by limiting the time students are allotted to conduct a search and by encouraging fast results as opposed to a more time-consuming search of all sources, print and nonprint. As a result, student searches frequently begin and end with the Internet, when often a print resource is not only available but more authoritative and even more comprehensive. What's worse, students seem to avoid professional help with their searches. John Lubans, in his article "When Students Surf the Net," published in the School Library Journal[3], reports that even though librarians are the ones best suited to help students be more efficient searchers, "...the bad news is that most students feel they don't need a librarian to help them find resources."

Another alarming trend I have observed is what I call the "re-name it and claim it" process of copying and pasting information. Students seem to feel that because information on the Internet is free and available to all, it is up for grabs. And, many times, they get away with it simply because it is overly time-consuming for teachers to check every possible source to confirm plagiarism. Ken Haycock, in his article "What Works: Applying Research in Information Literacy," published in Teacher Librarian [4],noted, "Synthesis, especially summarizing and making decisions rather than copying someone else's ideas and conclusions, must be taught for students in order for them to apply and use this skill set."

A third trend I have observed is that some students also tend to accept a quantity of sources as acceptable evidence of an adequate search, regardless of the quality of the results. Assuming that quantity indicates thoroughness, students feel that having a large number of sources, whether or not all of them are credible and authoritative, satisfies the need for information. And by failing to identify acceptable standards for the quantity of sources accepted, students fail to consider qualifiers such as currency, authority, validity, and bias. A recent study by Lori Leibovich at the University of Michigan [5] found that students using big search engines get an overwhelming number of hits and then react by saying something like, "O.K., I found a lot of answers—I'll take the first couple." Leibovich concludes, "That is exactly the kind of attitude that makes some educators worry that students will use the Internet as a quick fix." In research they conducted for the CSU School of Library and Information Science, David Loerstcher and Blanche Woolls [6] concluded, "To date, research shows we are not making great strides teaching students or teachers to handle new oceans of information currently available to most students."

Why Teach Information Literacy Using InfoQuest?

InfoQuest is a program designed to meet the needs of active learners. It is a process-based program that easily correlates with local, state, and national curriculum standards. It introduces students to the thrill of being an information detective—it is challenging, motivating, and exciting, even to younger students. InfoQuest, when properly administered, is a simple way to teach information-literacy skills to all levels of students by stimulating interest inspecific subject areas, helping students distinguish between types of resources, providing practice in critical-thinking skills as they evaluate those sources, and assisting students in documenting their findings. InfoQuest helps students to become successful and independent researchers andthereby to be less tempted to plagiarize the research of another.

How InfoQuest Works

Each week, we ask a challenging research question during the morning announcements. The questions are presented "TV-game-show" style to encourage participation. Once the question is posed, we stock a table with answer sheets, and the fun begins. Students have all week to research the answer. Answers must include the source used and verification that it was researched. Correct answers are announced the following week along with the new question. The weekly broadcast dialog, along with hundreds of suitable questions and answers, answer sheets, and assessment tools are available in my book, InfoQuest: A New Twist on Information Literacy [7].

Adapting InfoQuest to Your Program

InfoQuest is easily individualized to the specific needs of your program. First, determine the information-literacy needs and skill levels at your school. Next, assess your resources (current reference books, nonfiction books, online resources, computer workstations). Collaborate with your staff on the major curricular areas to be covered throughout the year and tie in questions to those themes. A popular source of questions is the students themselves, or the principal. One popular question we used while the fourth grade studied the regions and states was, "Which state flag is not a rectangle?," suggested by our principal.

How to Ask HOT Questions

Teachers who consistently ask recall-type questions that require a simple answer do not motivate students to develop higher order thinking (HOT) skills. Students should be encouraged to think, consider, analyze, and wonder before answering a question. Questions that require more than one step to answer take students through a process of evaluating information in order to reach a conclusion. Questions for InfoQuest need to be challenging and higher order to encourage critical-thinking skills.

The most appealing InfoQuest questions have a real-life application, which means the question is something students probably have little knowledge of but would be interested in knowing more about. Such questions connect to the curriculum and will benefit students in some way, but may not be in the direct line of study. For example, while our students studied arachnids in science, our InfoQuest question was, "What part of a spider is a protein?" This is intriguing, but not in their direct line of study, although it was supportive of the curriculum and encouraged students to dig deeply into the subject. Carol Ann Tomlinson [8], writing for Educational Leadership, commented, "Students learn best when they can make a connection between the curriculum and their interests and life experiences."

Why InfoQuest Works

The InfoQuest model is based on a philosophy of how to develop information-literacy skills without focusing mainly on the product that results. In other words, it is a process-orientedprogram. Students are freed from the constraints behind having to perform and thus can focus their efforts on developing skills. Instructors are freed from having to evaluate the products of students' efforts and thus are free to simply direct and evaluate student progress. The result is that students enjoy the process and are motivated to continue with the program, developing the necessary skills to become information-literate.

What InfoQuest Can Do for You

Once you have begun your InfoQuest program, you may quickly begin to realize some of the benefits of its use. First of all, InfoQuest provides an easy way to collaborate with teachers—even the most reluctant ones. It is a resource you can brag about on a regular basis, publishing your results to your Web page or in your newsletter. Students love to hear their names on the broadcast, and just announcing their names is great public relations for your media center. InfoQuest is a program that brings in attention from home and local businesses, so it is easy to ask for financial support to provide resources and to continue operating it. The first year we administered InfoQuest, our Parent's Association donated $16,500 to purchase new reference materials and keep it going! And because InfoQuest increases your student usage, your circulation, your students' time on task, and even your use of online resources, it will be an easy way to demonstrate your contribution to student achievement.


Must provoke thought, curiosity, wonder.

Must be researchable.

Must have a real-life application.


Should be researchable in a variety of sources.

Must be popular enough to have coverage in newspaper and magazine articles as well as books.

Should not discourage students with its difficulty.

Should be answerable in your media center.


Waste time and energy.

Discourage deep thinking.

Result in frustration.

Provide a poor role model.

Do not ensure that students learn how to formulate their own questions.


Exceptionality—not your usual information literacy program

Expectations—high for all levels

Equity—suitable for everyone

Evidence—designed to yield measurable results


Obtain support of your administration.

Choose a way to broadcast your question.

Motivate students and teachers to participate.

Play up the results.


Checklists Circulation statistics Collaborative lesson plans

Rubrics Portfolios Weekly/monthly reports

Certificates Project outcomes Meeting notes

Photos Questionnaires E-mail


1. Name three legumes.

2. What part of a spider is a protein?

3. Which creature is larger, a sperm whale or a giant squid?

4. What is the last word in the Declaration of Independence?

5. What inanimate object does a pangolin resemble?

6. What state flag is not a rectangle?

7. What nocturnal animal lives in a sett?

8. Where would you be most likely to find a mahout?

9. What are three ways bats are helpful to man?

10. Which city is closer to the North Pole, Vancouver, BC, or Montreal, Quebec?




[1] Nelson, M. (2000). "We Have the Information You Want, But Getting It Will Cost You: Being Held Hostage by Information Overload." ACM Crossroads Student Magazine. Retrieved July 31, 2000:

[2] Akin, L. (1998). "Information Overload and Children: A Survey of Texas Elementary School Students." School Library Media Quarterly. Retrieved May 12, 2001:

[3] Lubans, J. (1999). "When Students Hit the Surf." School Library Journal. Retrieved August 25, 2000:

[4] Haycock, K. (2000). "What Works: Applying Research in Information Literacy." Teacher Librarian. Retrieved June 2, 2000: http://www.teacherlibrar

[5] Leibovich, L. (2000). "Choosing Quick Hits over the Card Catalog." The New York Times. Retrieved August 10, 2000: library/tech/00/08/circuits/articles/10thin.html.

[6] Loerstcher, D. & Woolls, B. (1997). "The Information-Literacy Movement of the School Library Media Field: A Preliminary Summary of the Research." CSU School of Library and Information Science. Retrieved July 26, 2000:

[7] Milam, P. (2002). InfoQuest: A New Twist on Information Literacy. Worthington, OH: Linworth.

[8] Tomlinson, C. (2000). "Reconcilable Differences: Standards-Based Teaching and Differentiation." Educational Leadership, 58 (1), 5-11.



Communications to the author should be addressed to Peggy Milam, Ed.S., Compton Elementary School, 3450 New Macland Road, Powder Springs, GA 30127; 770/222-3600;
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